According to the headlines, mobile technologies boomed and stole the limelight from traditional computing in 2012, making it a down year for PCs proper. Balderdash! If the PC industry’s dying, it’s doing so in style, shipping an estimated 367 million units in 2012 and stuffing store shelves with legions of top-notch products that blew the pants off previous generations of computers and computer components alike.
What, you want examples? I have examples. After spending the year tinkering with the best – and worst –the industry has to offer, I’ve managed to narrow the field down to just ten interesting and intriguing products that caught my eye and held my attention in 2012. These, folks, are the cream of this year’s computing crop.
I might as well get the controversial pick out of the way first. Yes, Windows 8 looks a lot different from Windows 7, and yes, the new (and somewhat non-intuitive) interface works best on touchscreens –touchscreens that most traditional laptops and desktops don’t have. And where are all the apps?
However, once you roll up your sleeves, replace the missing Start menu, and pick up a few tips and tricks, Windows 8 becomes a lot more palatable. In fact, I almost never lay mine eyes upon the controversial Start Screen; and once you eliminate the modern UI from your life, Windows 8 is basically a faster, better version of Windows 7. Try booting up a Windows 7 PC after getting used to Windows 8’s lightning-quick start – it’s almost as bad as watching paint dry.
Is Windows 8 a must-have upgrade for satisfied Windows 7 users? No, not at all. In fact, most mainstream types – I’m looking at you, mom – would be better off avoiding it until absolutely necessary. But if you take the plunge and don’t mind making a couple of usability tweaks, you’ll find a lot to like in Microsoft’s latest OS.
Dell XPS 12
Speaking of Windows 8, the operating system shines on tablet/laptop hybrids, which help bridge the gap between the touch-focused UI and the keyboard-and-mouse productivity chops Windows is known for. I’ve tested the majority of the hybrids released thus far and the Dell XPS 12 is the hands-down standout, sporting an attractive (and lightweight) carbon fiber design, a stunning 1080p IPS display, excellent ergonomics, and the best tablet-to-laptop conversion mechanism I’ve seen. It’s pricey – starting at $1,200 – but it’s speedy and an early shining star for the mostly “meh” Windows 8 lineup.
In a nutshell, the Dell XPS 12 easily earned Digital Trends’ Editors’ Choice award. ‘Nuff said.
All that being said, the breakthrough computing star of 2012 wasn’t a Windows hybrid or a fancy-schmancy, multi-thousand-dollar, multi-core, water-cooled behemoth of a gaming system. No, the most intriguing computer of 2012 was the Raspberry Pi: a credit card-sized PC built with modest specs and the intention of bringing computer programming to the masses thanks to its price tag of $25 to $35.
It worked. There’s been a consistently long wait time to buy the Raspberry Pi since its launch at the end of last February as youngsters, curious minds, and hardcore enthusiasts alike took to the device in droves. Initial orders came in at more than 700 per second. Even if you’re not interested in learning Python or hooking your Pi up to an Arduino microcontroller, the mini-PC offers solid value as a low-cost 1080p media streamer or even a basic network attached storage device (with the help of an external hard drive). The possibilities truly are endless with the Raspberry Pi.
Intel Core i5-3570K
When it comes to computer processors, it’s all too easy to give the crown to the biggest, baddest CPU around and call it a day. There’s one problem, though: most people don’t need the raw power of a Hyper-Threaded Core i7. Intel’s 3.4GHz Core i5-3570K Ivy Bridge processor delivers the best bang for your enthusiast buck, delivering four cores of overclockable, Turbo Boosted power that can handle most tasks without breaking a metaphorical sweat – and that includes cutting-edge gaming. This chip beats at the heart of my most recent PC build.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 670
Mainstream gamers will find their itches scratched by the more modestly priced AMD Radeon 7850 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 660, but for my bottom dollar, Nvidia’s GTX 670 was most intriguing GPU of 2012. GTX 670 graphics cards can now be found for around $370 and deliver frame rates nearly on par with the performance pushed out by AMD and Nvidia’s high-end offerings, despite costing $70 to $200 less than said high-end offerings.
Samsung 840 SSD
Upgrading to a speedy solid-state drive can make your computer feel like new again. If you’re in the market for an SSD, the Samsung 840 is the one to buy. The drive delivers blazing fast read and write times, and features easy-to-grasp software that alleviates most of the very mild headaches associated with SSD ownership. Combine it with one of those newfangled 4TB hard drives and you’re good to go for years to come. Of course, a 1TB hard drive works too, if your PC building budget more closely mirrors mine and you don’t mind backing off from the bleeding edge.
NOFAN CR-95C Copper
A passive (read: fanless and silent) CPU cooler this big may be impractical for most builds, but the Nofan CR-95C Copper is nothing less than a thing of beauty. It fits all the latest mainstream Intel and AMD sockets, and with a 95W Thermal Design Power rating, it should theoretically cool even the beefiest of Ivy Bridge chips. Just don’t expect to get much overclocking done.
MacBook Pro with Retina display
In case you didn’t get the hint by this point, I’m more of a PC guy than a Mac guy. That being said, the Retina displays on the new MacBook Pros are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and they’re backed by powerful hardware to boot. MacBook Pro with Retina Display, you still bring me down, but your pretty face tickles me with envy nonetheless.
What The Walking Dead did for zombies on TV, DayZ did for zombies in video games. A mod built atop the hyper-realistic ARMA II military shooter, DayZ drops players into a similarly hyper-realistic Russian state populated by zombies and bandits. The game has one simple goal: survive. It’s harder than it sounds, especially when you consider the game’s authentic hunger, thirst, and damage mechanics, and the fact that the other players you run into in this multiplayer release may be more dangerous than the zombies themselves. (Getting hold of a sniper or assault rifle helps.)
It’s awesome, and there’s nothing else quite like DayZ. Don’t take my word for it: DayZ’s popularity propelled the three-year-old ARMA II to the top of the Steam sales charts and prompted Bohemia Interactive – ARMA’s developer – to snatch up DayZ’s creator for a stand-alone DayZ game coming in 2013.
Razer Tiamat headset
While you’re sneaking your way through a zombie apocalypse, it helps to have full awareness of your surroundings. The long-delayed Razer Tiamat is the first gaming headset to pack 10 directional drivers for true 7.1 surround sound and a low-end bass punch that puts most competing cans to shame. Make sure you have a motherboard or sound card capable of 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound, though – at $180, you don’t want to invest in these bad boys if you’re going to be stuck on stereo sonics.